Live the Straight and Narrow

Hillman: The compulsion to innocence. What is it about America? Why this dominant theme going all the way back to out first novels in the eighteenth century - the loss of innocence? It's been written of again and again. That's the major theme of American literature. Why are we a culture that doesn't want to lose its innocence?

Ventura: Doesn't want to lose its virginity. And constantly manufactures new versions of virginity.

Hillman: What is the moral superiority of being innocent? And why are sophistication and culture somehow corruption?

Ventura: It goes back to the Puritans, where any sort of imagination was doubt or deviation and considered the work of Satan.

Hillman: What does puritanism have to do with therapy?

Ventura: I think puritanism is the root of why a lot of people go to therapy. In the sense of, "Why do I go to therapy? I don't know how to be monogamous, I have all these terrible thoughts, I don't know how to live the straight and narrow like I'm supposed to, it's driving me crazy, I go to therapy to -"

Hillman: "- get straightened out."

Ventura: "Yes. So I can live in this confined place that my puritanism tells me I should live in. I should be a good husband and love only my wife, and a good father and sacrifice everything for my kids, and I should go to work and love going to work, and I should go to church on Sunday but not let the Gods and spirits into my daily life where they're too disruptive, and if only I could do that I'd be fine, but I have moods, I have tempers, I have fears, they all get in the way, they throw me off the good path."

Hillman: "And I know I should keep my body under control. But instead I eat too much and I drink too much, and I eat chocolate at night before I go to bed and I really shouldn't be doing that anymore, and I still smoke, and my body is full of appetites and lusts and perversions and peculiarities and -"

Ventura: "- and I want therapy to cure me of all this." In other words: "I want therapy to cure me of having a psyche."

Because that's what puritanism says: "If you do this and that and practice such and so and believe that and this, you won't have to worry about having a psyche. Your psyche won't matter, it won't be a factor."

Hillman: "You won't have to worry about having a body, either."

Ventura: "And anything that intrudes on the 'normal,' the straight and narrow, is evil. Which is an insidious way of saying: the psyche is evil. And if the psyche is trying to put some curves in your 'straight' and widen your 'narrow,' if your imagination is coaxing you, goading you, seducing you, prodding you -"

Hillman: "Yes, my imagination is filled with extraordinary things I shouldn't be doing -"

Ventura: "If your psyche and your body are trying to keep you from living as we, the Puritans, would have you live, then they are evil."

You have this thing in psychology where you're going to therapy to be cured of having a psyche!

[James Hillman]
with Michael Ventura
We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy - And the World's Getting Worse, p.200, 201

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